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Category Archives: Classroom Culture

Five Ways to Publicly Celebrate Student Reading

Once our students start reading, start setting personalized goals, and start to develop healthy reading lives, it’s important to acknowledge their progress. Big, culminating classroom celebrations are a fun way to do it, but there are also ways to celebrate that don’t take a ton of precious class time, and can mark the smaller moments worth celebrating along the way.

1. Penny Kittle encourages the book stack. Students gather the books they’ve read over the last semester, quarter, or other period of time that they’ve been reading. They stack the books up, which gives a visual representation of what they’ve accomplished with their reading. My ninth grade students recently did the book stack, and their smiles and pride were inspiring.

  1. While some students loved the book stacks, I had a couple of students who had done much of their reading on e-readers, so the book stack wasn’t such a great option for them. Our solution was the digital collage. Students gathered images of their book covers and collected them on a document, creating a digital quilt or collage. They then printed them on our color printer, and we made a patchwork mural in the hall with them.

This visual representation celebrates not only what individual students have been reading, but also serves as a hallway meeting place and inspiration for conversation about books. It’s a great way to build a reading community.

  1. Our learning support teacher encourages her readers with a creative, ongoing visual representation. She has a paper “tree” on a wall in her classroom, and as students read books, they add “leaves” to the tree. On each “leaf” the students write the title and author of the books, and it serves as both a reminder and inspiration for future reading. IMG_61004. That same teacher also keeps a quote wall on her white board. The words we read can reach us in beautiful ways, and when students experience that kind of moment, they are encouraged to share those lines on the white board. It’s another public display of a healthy reading life. It’s a conversation starter, and it helps build a sense of community within the classroom.

 

quote-wall.png5. Another teacher in our department keeps poster paper on her walls. Students add titles to the lists as they complete their books. Because names are attached, students can reach out to one another with questions or when they want to talk to each other about a book that they read, too. It’s another public acknowledgment and conversation starter, which is part of what we need when we build reading communities.

Books Read room 225

The common thread with all of these ideas is that they are public, they are deliberate conversation starters, and they help to build our precious reading communities.

 

I think it’s important to create opportunities for students to celebrate their reading accomplishments in a risk-free, nonthreatening way. Time is precious, so creating these opportunities in a relatively quick way within our classroom communities can be found time. Our classroom walls should reflect the needs and values of our classroom communities, and I find that these five strategies help move students forward with the development of their healthy reading lives.

How do you enable and encourage your students to publicly celebrate their reading lives and reading communities? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Follow her blog https://adventuresinhighschoolworkshop.wordpress.com/

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Coffee spoons and Google forms – Measuring a Year

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.

Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.

five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.

How do you measure,

Measure a year?”

Ah.. the opening lines of “Season of Love.” Go on, take a minute, and listen to it here. (Hi, young, pre-Frozen Idina Menzel! You’re amazing!) These lines -especially the “spoons of coffee”- have become so cliche, so tired, so parodied. Yet, even knowing all of that, those opening chords still tug at my heart. And I still find a little (ok, a lottle) truth and joy in the question the song poses: how do we measure a year?

For a teacher, of course, the question of why we measure anything is obvious: we need to know where we are so we know how far we need to go, where we need to go. So, the why is easy – we want our students to leave our classrooms as better readers, writers and thinkers, comfortable “playing” with ideas and using their own voices. However, the question of how we measure a year is a powerful one and, maybe, a more difficult one. How do we measure our successes? How do we measure our students’ growth as learners? How do we know that we’re making progress? How do we know what steps to take next?

Feedback is a big, recurring topic on 3TT. Here are some of ways feedback has been tackled on this site before: from Amy Estersohn, from Amy Rasmussen, from Lisa Dennis.

For me, the answer came in combining some National Writing Project best practices ideas with my love of Google Forms/Sheets. The result? Each week students are asked to use Google Forms to answer three questions based on a modified version of the writing project model of bless, press, address (BPA).

Now, BPA was  originally meant to guide students in asking for and giving advice when reading their peers’ writing. So, directions for BPA would like this in class:

Do you want your piece BLESSED, ADDRESSED, or PRESSED?

        o Bless: If you want your piece blessed, you’re not ready to hear criticism yet (however constructive it might be). You want only to hear about what’s working so far.

         o Address: If you have chosen the address option, what one problem or concern do you want your readers/audience to address? Be as specific as possible.

         o Press: You’re ready to hear constructive criticism and give the readers/audience the freedom to respond in any fashion. This, of course, can include “Bless” and “Address.”

However, I thought the questions would work well as a weekly thermometer of where my classes are, So I modified them to look like this:

  1. What are your positives from this week? (Bless)
  2. What concerns do you have about the ideas/skills we covered this week? (Address)
  3. Is there anything else I need to know? (Press)

Here’s what this looks like in my class. Every Friday I ask students to fill out the form (see what it looks like here). Google Forms automatically collates the data into a spreadsheet, and then a code I created allows me to email all 116 students about their responses individually from the spreadsheet. Easy, peasy, right?

The way this simple give and take has changed my classroom has been astonishing.

For example, here’s a response from a shy student:

Positive Concern Anything Else? My Response
I greatly enjoyed discussing a modest proposal in class and learning and discussing satires. I don’t think there is anything specific I need help with. I really enjoy satires, considering I am very sarcastic in all aspects of my life. Awesome. Keep up the good work. I appreciate you volunteering multiple times in class; I know that’s been a struggle this year.

This feedback allowed me to compliment a student who wouldn’t contribute to class discussions at the beginning of the year for contributing multiple times this week. Our entire conversation about her participation nerves and my suggestions happened via email. And, honestly, that reinforcement might never have happened in our day to day interactions in class. We would have wasted time frustrated with each other: I would have been frustrated that she wasn’t participating, she would have been frustrated because she wanted to participate but didn’t know how, and neither of us would have grown or moved forward.

The form also helps me adapt lesson plans to students’ needs more thoroughly. For example, here’s some feedback from last week’s in class timed practice:

      I need more practice connecting my sources in a timed synthesis writing because my essay felt very choppy when moving between sources.

      Not necessarily with this. I just need to work on doing everything quickly. I’m always running out of time.

      I don’t think I need help with that, I just need to pay attention to the clock more.

      Even though we talked about framing our evidence with our own voice, I struggled including warrant to frame the evidence in the synthesis due to the time limit. I know the warrant and “so what” of a claim are typically the most important parts and I know how to include them but I just never have the time so I tend to just skim a topic and move on so I can address all my points. What other part of my paper would be the best to shorten to leave time for warrant?

This feedback tells me that I need to spend a little time next week emphasizing the value of brainstorming before a timed write.

And what do the students think of the process? Here are a few thoughts:

      It’s nice to have an easy way to regularly discuss the issues as well as the positives with a teacher. Not often to teachers inquire about the good things the class is doing for you and your successes. I also enjoy hearing back from a teacher and feeling like my opinions and concerns are heard 🙂

      Also, I think especially in an environment like Central, students (myself included) are nervous to say they don’t understand things in class because they don’t want to look stupid, but weekly feedback makes it easier to get help.

       Some weeks, it doesn’t seem all that helpful, but others it helps me keep track of all that we have done in that week and keep track of what I need to focus on. It isn’t hard.

        It’s an interesting system. I’m running for governor for this upcoming YIG conference, and we’ve discussed about implementing a system that is quite similar statewide to streamline teacher-student feedback in attempt to improve K-12 education so each individual teacher can cater to his/her classes’ specific needs. I think it works pretty good and there’s not really much of a negative from the student standpoint.

So, how do I measure a year? In emails, and google forms, and excel spreadsheets. My version isn’t quite as catchy as the RENT version, to be honest. But this weekly format works for me; it’s how I measure my year. I value the conversations it starts, the way it allows my classroom to extend beyond the school hours, the relationships it deepens, and how it informs my practice. What works for you?

 

Sarah Morris teaches AP Language & Composition and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. Born with a reading list of books she’ll never finish, she tries to read new texts but often finds herself revisiting old favorites: Name of the Wind, The Stand, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.

The Upside Down of SparkNotes

My ninth period class sometimes feels like the Upside Down, you know, the terrifying parallel universe kids get sucked into in the Netflix series Stranger Things. They seem to keepcalm_shutupfunction in perpetual chaos. Every day I whack-a-mole them into their current book, notebook work, mentor text, draft, or just away from their phones.

In another teaching universe, I might anticipate 9th period with fear and loathing. But I don’t. Despite the daily ruckus, there is no malice in their behavior. In the universe of RWW, we can muddle through these chaotic moments together, (mostly) with humor and (mostly) without the rank-pulling that commands student compliance. And sometimes, these moments even provide a portal to the universe of important conversations.

This class has a number of self-proclaimed non-readers. Luke considers reading a “hobby” that some people enjoy and others don’t (and shouldn’t have to do). Lani regularly describes herself as “not much of a reader.” Miles’s stance is more ambivalent. He wants to know stuff, but sees reading as inefficient for doing so. I ask, “What ruined reading for you?” He answers without hesitation: “SparkNotes.” He elaborates, “It’s just a faster way to get the information.” Classmates nod their heads in agreement.

INFORMATION?!? I recoil.

By “information,” they mean what they will be held accountable, by quiz or discussion. When I remind them that we don’t do that in RWW, they explain — gently, mercifully — that now it’s just a habit. They look genuinely sorry for me, as if they just told me there is no Santa Claus. Or that SparkNotes is Santa Claus. Which maybe it is: the Santa Claus of the Upside Down, that parallel universe where reading resides for many of our students.

In their practice-revolutionizing book Disrupting ThinkingKylene Beers and Robert Probst distinguish between “aesthetic” and “efferent” reading. The former is about how a text affects our thoughts and emotions and the latter about the information we can extract from it. In classrooms where the efferent is favored over the aesthetic, SparkNotes is a useful substitute. Miles and his classmates have learned to reside here, to the extent that efferent reading is their natural stance in their English classrooms.

Beers and Probst do not discount efferent reading out of hand. It certainly has its place when information or efficiency is the goal. SparkNotes is a means to this kind of extrinsic end that drives so much of how we measure “success.” Can we blame our students for using a resource to reach that end more efficiently?

Aesthetic reading doesn’t lend itself to extrinsic reward, making it incompatible as a means to the end of racking up points toward the reward of an A. But here is the very reason why we must stand by its importance: the aesthetic stance is what invites the emotion and empathy that brings qualitative value to students’ reading experience, that honors the power and the beauty of the written word, that opens a window into the lives of others. And, which encourages the “compassionate thinking” that Beers and Probst define as so critical to our students’ reading lives.

My 10th-grade RWW students were given the option of book circles. In planning for rolling out their choices, I tried constructing elaborate lessons to reveal the beauty of a text so that students would have to admit to its aesthetic power. What I should have realized sooner is that a lesson like this was beside the point.

SparkNotes_F451_screenshotThat day, the SparkNotes summary of the first chapter of Fahrenheit 451° (one book circle choice) was their writing prompt. There was some confusion: Were they supposed to write about whether they were going to choose that book? Or to predict what the book might be about? This prompt is like any other daily writing, I told them. Just write what it brings to mind.

I’m not creative enough to make a lesson into a mystery. When students finished writing to this (rather uninspiring) prompt, I told them straight up: Now, here’s the source text for this SparkNotes summary. Please, just listen.

And I read aloud the beginning of Fahrenheit 451°. 

It was a pleasure to burn. 

By the time I reached the description of Guy Montag as a “conductor” of the symphony of flames that silenced the voices of the books he burns, there was also silence in the room. More students than I expected opted for the book circle, reading Fahrenheit 451°. I don’t know whether these choices resulted from an aesthetic reading of the book’s opening, but isn’t it pretty to think so?

Kathleen Maguire teaches Sophomore English, Senior Advanced Writing, and AP Language & Composition in Evanston, a suburb just north of Chicago. When she’s not grading papers or reading books to recommend to students, she tries to keep up with her yoga and her 10-year-old son, Jude (not in that order). She tweets at @maguireteach.

 

Accountability Through Conversation

In Shana’s post “Conversation is our Most Powerful Teaching Tool” she mentions an article by researcher John Goodland. He states that only 1% of instructional time is given to conversation…insert wide eyed emoji…what?!

That statistic has really stuck with me. I’m not sure if it was more than a subconscious thought until the power of conversation became very clear to me.

In a nutshell, I am a content coordinator who works to support (6th-12th grade ELAR) teachers as they hone their craft. Since I began working in this position, I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly teachers need to be and feel successful.

As a district team, we have agreed to implement independent choice reading into our daily routine, as a step toward implementing a workshop model. Teachers are on board and have done some AMAZING things with choice reading in their classrooms, but, regardless of what grade level I am with, or what campus I am on I keep hearing the same question, “how do we know that they’re reading?” We talked about logs, reading responses, summaries, notes, and we’ve shared resources and ideas, but there was still something missing…

Then I had it! A light bulb moment in its truest sense. In classrooms where students TALK about what they are reading, they are accountable. In Amy’s post about shifting control she talks about “find[ing] a space for conversations…” and that if her giving “up control makes space for that, I’ll take it every chance I get.”

lightbulb

For me, that answers the how do we know question. During some learning walks I saw three examples of conversation from three different rooms…

First example: In a 12th grade academic/on level classroom the students began their class period reading for 10 minutes in a book of their choice. Once the timer went off, the students were asked to talk to a partner (or two) about their book. The teacher specifically asked the students to “sell it”. Sell their book to their partner(s). The teacher roamed around the room while the students were talking and then let two volunteer share their “pitch” to the whole group. It was very clear that the teacher knew what their students were reading, IF they were reading, and how the felt about their books.

Second example: In a 7th grade PreAP class students began their class period by reading for 5 minutes, then when the timer went off they got a 1 minute break. Students were asked to talk to their elbow partner during their break about their book’s protagonist. The teacher provided a sentence stem to probe the conversation. Then after the minute was up, they read for 5 more minutes. The teacher roamed and jotted notes as a “status of the class” during that 11 minutes. The students have been talking about the structure and elements of fiction and how protagonists can shape a story. At the end of the minute, the teacher had a pretty good idea about what her students knew and didn’t know about protagonists, including how to pronounce, or mispronounce, the word. 😛

Third example: In an 11th grade AP class the students began their class period by reading for 15 minutes. While they were reading the teacher met with every student in the class. Her questions were simple; she asked, “what’s the title of your book?” and “what page are you on?” The teacher was able to meet with 26 students in 15 minutes. She was able to see who is meeting their reading goal, who is abandoning books, and who isn’t reading.

When students know they’re going to be held accountable to explain their book, connect it to what they’re learning through mini-lessons, or just track their progress to their teacher, they respond. It becomes the culture…

This isn’t anything new, and it’s been talked about before in multiple posts on Three Teachers Talk, but what was a game changer for me was seeing it in action. I was able to create a concrete model that I could then replicate. I learned three different strategies or approaches to talking with students/letting them talk to each other by watching someone else in action. Talk about self-embedded professional learning! I mean, can it get any better than that?!

When I visit campuses my first question to teachers is going to be: how are you getting students to talk? Then we shall see where our conversations lead us. 🙂

I’d love to hear from you! How do you get and promote your students to talk? Are you able to visit other teachers classrooms on your team/campus? If so, do you feel like it’s beneficial?

Promoting Community in the Workshop Classroom–and Out!

IMG_6878-COLLAGEThere were about two weeks of school when we came back that I wondered if I was doing something wrong.  It seemed like I had WAY too much time on my hands, and I wasn’t quite sure if I was just forgetting about responsibilities, and therefore shirking them in some way, or if I actually was managing my time better.

(Scoffs) Of course, it wasn’t the latter.  I simply FORGOT that I was in grad school.  This past week, as grad school classes started up again, I thought, “Ohhhh yeahhhh, that’s what was missing.”

I have questioned my life choices many times throughout this graduate student plus full-time (and then some) teacher season.  However, it is increasingly amazing to me the fact that teaching is more a study in behavioral psychology than it really is in any content.  The questions we ask ourselves are never just, What should I teach next?  Rather, they are loaded questions like, What can I teach next that will engage students, help them reach their potential, and provide a learning experience that will last beyond my classroom?

For this reason, my current class–focusing on social and emotional components of learning–is rocking my world.  The ore I read, the more I realize that it is my job not only to encourage healthy social and emotional characteristics in individual students, but also with each other.

So as my students are gain their reading strides this year, I’m pushing them to talk to each other about it more than ever before.  Here are some way I’m promoting community in my classroom, even among different class periods.

The Reader Hall of Fame:  This was my colleague’s idea, so I cannot take credit at all.  She started taking pictures of her students with their first finished book, and then she adds a small strip of paper with each new title they finish.  It looks AWESOME, and it really allows a constant brag-on-the-students feel to the classroom.  Students love coming in and seeing the new developments of their friends, the titles they’re reading, and the PAGE COUNT.  Yes.  They compare page counts like nobody’s business.

Book Clubs: This semester I am doing my first round of book clubs with my AP group.  Last semester, the students begged for book clubs.  They wanted to be able to read with their friends, which I think is a totally worthy desire that I do not mind milking for all it’s worth.  My goal is to come up with discussion questions along with the students that will promote discussion about life and the world, as well as education (our thematic topic for this unit).

Whole Class Reading Challenge:  Daniel Pink is haunting me in my sleep for this one–re: extrinsic motivation is not sustainable.  I know. However, when it comes to high school seniors, you sometimes have to pull out all the stops.  I follow Brian Kelley on Twitter (@briank) and he so graciously shared this reading challenge bingo with me.  I told my seniors each time they complete seven squares as a class–each square completed by a new student–they could bring to class.  When we complete three cycles, they can have a movie day.  I’m a sucker.  Feel free to troll me on Twitter.

Red Thread Notebooks, Technology Style:  This semester, my colleague and I are trying to get our seniors communicating across class periods, and even between our two classes.  In order to do this, we are going to take Shana’s Red Thread Notebooks, and take them to FlipGrid and possible Canvas discussion boards.  I hope to have different boards for big topics like LOVE, DEATH, FAITH, FREEDOM, on FlipGrid and allow time in class for students to respond to those boards and each other, referencing their current reading.

#bookstagram:  I love this hashtag on Instagram, and it provides a great way to connect to students in their own world.  I want to show a few photos from the hashtag to students in support of my book talks, and then offer an opportunity for students to #bookstagram their own book, or search the hashtag for their next read.

“Why I Read” Wall:  I’m a sentimental freak when it comes to second semester seniors.  They roll their eyes constantly as I say, “Do you REMEMBER when you said you would never read?!  Look at you now!”  Last week, tears streamed down my face–single ones, thank you–as I told them I believed in them and I’m so glad they’re here.  Beyond the sentimentality simply being my personality, it is also a teaching tactic that requires teenagers to reflect.  This is a skill I never thought would be so difficult to teach, but it is!  I want students to think of reasons why they read, and create a little notecard to hang in the hallway.  We could even steal their pictures from the Reader Hall of Fame and put them out there.  This would provide an amazing message for all the students who come into my classroom’s corner of the world that reading is more than just assignment.

And that’s the dream right there, folks.

So how do you promote community across classrooms through reading?


Jessica Paxson teaches English IV, AP Lang, and Creative Writing in Arlington, TX.  She runs on coffee and exaggeration, a deadly combination at 7 in the morning. Her students frequently describe her as “an annoyingly cheerful person who thinks all her students can change the world.”  Yep, pretty much. 

Creating a Culture: the workshop journey begins

“Mrs. Turner, I’m mad at you…”

This was the voice that greeted me the other morning before the first bell to begin school had even rung. I was surprised. Garrett is one of our seniors–a kid who I had taught for two years and who often called me Mom (and sometimes Dad, just to be funny). We are close, and I didn’t know why he’d be mad.

“I finished that book and now I don’t have anything to read and I can’t stop thinking about what happened in Winger and I’m mad at you.”

Ah…now I get it. You see, this young man was an avowed non-reader three years ago. He was almost proud of it–he wore it like a badge. Garrett was not alone. My classroom seemed to be filled with young men and young women who had lots of “better” things to do than to pick up a book. Many (almost proudly) said that they hadn’t read a book since they stopped AR testing in elementary school. Frustrated with lower reading scores than I thought appropriate and encouraged by industry greats like Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, I was determined to change my kids into readers, one kid at a time.

I set out to fill my classroom with books. I bought used books, I bought books from Goodwill, I took donations from friends and family members–there were books everywhere!

IMG_3924

Then I took a bigger leap and decided to give up 12 minutes of my instructional time every day. We’re in 53 min classes 4 days a week with 39 minute classes on Fridays–251 min of instructional time; 12 minutes a day 5 days a week is roughly 20% of my instructional time. I believed the literature, though, and, more than that, I believed in the power of books. I’ve been a lifelong avid reader, and as the kid who took a book everywhere (and always had a spare book in the car), I’ve always used books as an escape but also as a way to help me work through whatever issue I was facing.

So back to my grand experiment. Through trial and error, lots of book talks, and lots of reading conferences, we started to see a change. All of a sudden (though actually after quite a lot of intentional hard work), I had 90% of my students reading and excited about it. There were several days a week when even my toughest audience would request more time to read. Garrett, for example, tore through Gym Candy by Carl Deucker, then Runner, then Payback Time, then Swagger. Swagger had the biggest impact, I think. Now it wasn’t just about the sports narrative–he was getting to something with meat and weight. He was also getting a little obsessed with Carl Deucker. After some encouragement and more than a little coercion, he tried Kevin Waltman’s High School Hoops series–Next, Pull, Slump, and Quick. It was somewhere in the middle of Slump when he admitted that maybe he didn’t just like to read Carl Deucker books–maybe he actually liked to read. (For ideas about using great sports writing as a hook for your students, click over to Shana’s mini-lesson.)

Now Garrett’s a senior, and he’s in my room about once every two weeks looking for something new to read. He’s not alone, either. It seems that there’s a constant stream of kids in and out of my room looking for a new book. I get comments in the hall about something new that someone is reading, or a former student stops me at lunch to recommend the book that he just finished. Another student might stop by in tutorials to ask if I’ve read anything about a particular topic that she’s struggling with. I’m not alone, either. My other colleagues in the English department are experimenting with different ways to institute independent reading time in their classes. It doesn’t look the same in any of our classes, but the bottom line is that our kids are getting time to read, and in that time, they’re getting time to think. It’s moving into other departments as well–one of the History teachers is toying with the idea of incorporating some reading time into his class as well. The funny thing is that we’re starting to see results on test scores, too. The Reading component average for ACT scores at my school is slowly moving up–progress! We are creating a community of readers at my school, and, in the process, creating a community of thinkers.

If you are looking for some books that are sure to jump-start even the most reluctant reader, check out this post from Jackie! Charles Moore also has a great list of books and an inspiring story of his own journey here.


Do you have a story of a reading workshop success? I’d love to hear it! I’m also always looking for books that grab your most reluctant readers so that I can be ready with ammunition!

Sinead Turner has been trying to find a balance between reading ALL of the books and reading/grading essays–reading is just more fun! She teaches English 11 and AP English Language & Composition in Alabama at a small Catholic school and has three beautiful girls, a saint of a husband, and a menagerie of animals. She’s also sticking her toe into the proverbial Twitter water at @SineadWTurner.

The Power of Self-Reflection

For the last 9 years, I have been living proof that dreams come true. Once I decided to become an educator, all I would do is picture my ideal classroom, inspiring kids and motivating them to learn. For any new teacher, the excitement to begin our futures is so powerful; I wanted to bottle that up and keep it forever. However, the first year was all about survival. I devoted every waking moment to my job because that’s what I always thought “good teachers do.” I was like the Energizer Bunny; I never stopped planning, grading, copying, (did I mention grading?), etc. It wasn’t until 3 years in that I realized that teaching was different than what I thought it would be. I still loved everything about being in the classroom (okay, maybe not the paperwork), but I still felt that something was missing.

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I poured through a plethora of professional books and signed up for every type of professional development out there. While I was (and still am) appreciative for the feedback from colleagues and leaders in my district, I couldn’t get that image out of my head – the one where my hypothetical students were smiling, learning, and coming back to tell me all of the lessons they learned in my classroom. I was convinced those “lessons” in my dream classroom had nothing to do with participial phrases or thesis statements. Desperate to fulfill my vision, I did something I had never done formally before. I began to reflect on my own performance as a teacher.

Some things that came to mind were;

What do I want students to gain from being in my class?

How can I connect with every student?

Was I doing enough to ensure my students felt safe to take academic risks in my classroom?

Would I want to be a student in my class?

Am I the kind of teacher I would want for my own children?

As the years went on, I continued to ask myself those questions constantly. I saw a difference once I was open to growing and changing to fit the needs of my students. The connections I had with my students strengthened, as did the confidence I had in my classroom and willingness to accept constructive feedback from my colleagues and administrators. However, my teaching assignment changed, and now, I was up against high school students a.k.a teenagers.face

Quickly, I learned that my motivational “talks” and individual conversations with kids were not enough to keep their attention and frankly, I was doing all of the work. That also meant I was doing all of the learning, and I was NOT okay with that. I remembered seeing something on Twitter about “Growth Mindset,” so I decided to give it a whirl. I put together a fun presentation, had my students reflect on their mindsets and even create motivational posters for my classroom. They became involved in their learning in a way that I had never experienced or expected.

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This picture is of a bulletin board in my classroom. We choose the best ones as a class at the beginning of school and refer to them throughout the year.

I knew this wasn’t something I would only do at the beginning of the year. Shifting a mindset is a continuous process; It can be difficult, frustrating, and make you question every single choice you make. For most adolescents, this is something they don’t do, or don’t know HOW to do.  This year, I have had a tough time lighting a fire in my students the first semester. No matter what I did, I felt as if my students were just going through the motions. I took our “Growth Mindset” further by having them check their own progress. I created a simple 5 question survey that would help me target the real issues my students were up against

Survey

As we talked through these reflection questions as a class, I reminded them that self progress is not limited to English class. They were free to reflect on whatever they felt they needed to improve on.

The questions weren’t rocket science, but they were the questions I wanted to ask each and every student. After all, they were questions I ask myself all the time! That is when it hit me. How many chances do I give my kids to be involved in their own learning? Shouldn’t they have a voice, a chance to explore and identify what causes them to be successful or not? Shouldn’t they have a place to figure these things out in a safe environment, free from judgement, rather than for them to be left to fend for themselves? Shouldn’t I be the one to model this openly for them?

One of the reasons I became a teacher was because I fully believe that what we do in the classroom transcends far beyond the mere 187 days we spend together. It is my purpose. Yes, I am passionate about learning, about reading and writing, etc., but my #1 priority will always be on valuing who my students are. Being able to show them that their progress (or lack of) is controlled by the choices they make, and that I truly care about the people they are becoming helps clear the way for them to take ownership of their learning. Once they see that their needs matter to me and they are encouraged to share them, they become open to change. They begin to see their obstacles as opportunities for growth.

Shana Karnes recently wrote about the power of conversation. She expressed that,

“Speaking and listening are much more than just standards for us to cover – they are the tools our students need to change themselves and the world for the better.”

I wholeheartedly agree. However, this doesn’t only apply to students. As educators, we should be the ones to model our own growth mindsets. Our students need to know that these conversations aren’t just one-sided; they have a voice, and how they choose to use it will help define who they are. We just have to give them a chance to do that. More importantly, we are the ones who need to be willing to listen.

What are some ways you encourage growth mindsets and reflection in your classroom?

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Gena Mendoza is a proud wife, mom of two little princesses, and teacher of high school English. Her students are well educated in the fine art of disinfecting their hands when they enter her classroom and appreciate her aversion to fluorescent lighting. She is an excellent re-tweeter and is currently working on her goal of reading 50 books by the end of the school year! Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @mrs_mendoza3.

 

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